What is Reference Check Etiquette?

By Kevin Roth

You want to do a reference on a candidate and you happen to know someone who supervised him at a past company. Do you need to tell the candidate before you reach out or can you just make the call?

While it’s a nice gesture to inform the candidate of your relationship and that you’re planning on reaching out, it’s not by any means an obligation. As long as that call is in no way going to jeopardize their current employment, it’s a great way to get an honest take on their working style and experience vs the traditional reference process in which a candidate has the ability to hand pick the people that liked them the most.

Although some job seekers will read this and take offense, think if the tables were turned. You’re interviewing at a company for a role (whether confidential or not) and you realize you have a friend who happened to work there in the past. Wouldn’t your first plan of action be to reach out to that person to hear their experience? If not, then you’re missing out on an amazing advantage.

It is extremely important to note that calling someone you know confidentially at the person’s current company or someone who has a fiduciary relationship with that company (i.e. CPA firm) is a road to potential liability and should NEVER be done. A reference call can not risk the candidates current employment.

While I find the traditional reference method an unnecessary formality and a waste of valuable time/effort, the approach outlined above can be an amazing way to reinforce confidence in a potential hire. Take advantage of your network.

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